Navaratri is a Hindu festival dedicated to the Goddess Durga. All Hindu Goddesses, as per the belief, are different manifestations of one Goddess who is the Durga (Sakthi). Devi Durga or Sakthi symbolizes the omnipresent energy of the Universe and Navaratri festivals are occasions dedicated to worshipping this Universal energy. The festival lasts for 9 nights and ten days; hence the name ‘Navaratri’ which in Sanskrit means nine nights (‘nava’ means nine and ‘ratri’ means night). During this occasion, the nine different manifestations of Devi Shakthi are worshipped.
The festival of Navaratri falls 4 times in a year - Vasanta Navaratri in March-April period, Ashad Navaratri in June-July, Sharad Navaratri in September-October and Magha Navaratri in January- February period. Out of these, the Sharad Navaratri observed at the beginning of autumn or the onset of winter is considered the most significant one and is popularly known as the Navaratri. Vijayadashami and Dussehra – the festivals dedicated to Devi Durga coincide with the tenth day of Sharad Navaratri.
The common myth associated with this festival is the Goddess Durga’s triumph over Mahishasur. It is believed that during this time Goddess Durga defeated the buffalo-headed demon Mahishasur signifying evil and ego. Another legend is that of Lord Ram’s victory over Ravan. It is also believed that Lord Ram killed Ravan on Dashami – the tenth day.
The Navaratri festival dates are determined according to the Hindu lunar calendar. All the four Navratri festivals fall on the waxing phase (Shuklapaksha) of luni-solar months, starting on Pratipada (first lunar day) and ending on Navami (ninth lunar day).
Sharad Navaratri - the most important among the four Navaratris is celebrated in the lunar month of Ashvin . It falls near the Autumn Equinox (September-October) and hence the name Sharad or Sharada which means autumn. Sharad Navaratri or Maha Navaratri marks the beginning of winter and it coincides with the autumn harvests.
Vasanta Navaratri in the month of Chaitra (March–April) marks the beginning of the new year in Hindu lunar calendar. The word Vasanta means spring and it falls near the Spring Equinox. It is the second most significant Navaratri and it coincides with the spring harvests.
Ashad Navaratri is observed in the month of Ashada (June–July) and it signifies the beginning of monsoon season.
Magha Navaratri is observed in the month of Magha (January–February), during the winter season. The fifth day of this festival is often independently observed as Vasant Panchami.
All these Navaratri festivals are 9-day long observances with each day dedicated to a distinct form of Durga. The beginning of autumn and the beginning of spring are considered more sacred for worshiping the Mother Durga or Sakthi – the omnipresent energy of the Universe.
The nine days of Navaratri are dedicated to nine distinct forms of Goddess Durga. Though this notion is common to all Hindus, the significance of the days and the observations followed vary with different regions in India, leaving much to the creativity and preferences of the regional cultures. According to some scholars, the nine manifestations of Durga to be worshipped are Shailaputri, Brahmacharini, Chandraghanta, Kushmanda, Skandamata, Katyayani, Kaalratri, Mahagauri and Siddhidatri. While some others consider it to be Bhadrakali (the auspicious and fortunate), Amba or Jagdamba (Mother of the Universe), Annapoorna (the giver of food), Sarvamangala (the giver of joy all around), Bhairavi (the terrifying), Chandika (the violent), Lalita (the beautiful), Bhavani (the giver of life) and Mookambika (the one who listens).
The 2018 Maha Navaratri festival begins on 10 th October – Shuklapaksha Pratipada (1 st lunar day) of Ashvin month. The festival culminates with the Mahanavami (9 th lunar day) celebrations on 18 th October and Vijayadashami/Dusshera (10 th lunar day) celebrations on 19 th October.
The deity of the day is Shailaputri. She is the daughter of Himavan and the name literally means daughter of mountains. She is also known as Parvati or Hemavati and is the manifestation of the power behind Trimurtis. She is depicted as riding a bull and carrying a trident and a lotus.
The colour to wear on this day is Royal Blue.
The day marks the beginning of Navaratri celebrations. Some devotees start observing the Navaratri fasting on this day. In regions of Maharashtra, Goa and Punjab, devotees sow varieties of seeds/food grains on a pot. They water it for the next nine days and let them sprout. This practice indicating fertility is known as Ghatasthapana or Khetri. In Tamil Nadu, devotees set the Kolu – a display of dolls and idols on a step-like arrangement. The Kolu will be dismantled only on Vijayadashami day.
The deity is Brahmacharini which means one who practices devout asceticism. She is the way to moksha and is depicted as barefooted and carrying a rosary and a water utensil.
The colour to wear on this day is Yellow.
The deity is Chandraghanta who gives the strength to fight all evils. She is shown as having a golden complexion with 3 eyes and 10 hands. She rides on a lion or tiger and carries weapons in her hands. She wears a Chandra (crescent) on her forehead and hence the name Chandraghanta.
The colour to wear on this day is Green.
The deity is Kushmanda - the Goddess of the cosmic egg and the creator of the Universe. She is depicted as having 8 hands holding weapons, rosary, lotus etc. and riding on a tiger or lion. The colour to wear is Grey.
The deity is Skandamata: She is the mother of war god Skanda or Kartikeya and hence the name Skandamata (‘mata’ means mother). She is depicted as having four arms and three eyes. She holds the infant Skanda on her lap and rides on a ferocious lion.
The colour to wear is Orange.
The deity is Katyayani. She is the warrior Goddess and is one of the most violent forms of Devi. She rides on a lion and has four hands. The name derives as she was born to Rishi Katya.
The colour to wear is White.
The famous Durga Puja celebrations in West Bengal begins on this day.
The deity is Kaalratri – a fierce form of Durga incarnated to kill demons Shumbha and Nishumbha. She is depicted as having a dark complexion, disheveled hair and burning bright eyes. She rides on a donkey and carries a blood-drenched weapon.
The colour to wear is Red.
The deity is Mahagauri - the Goddess who is white in complexion and very beautiful. She is depicted as riding on a bull. Her upper right arm is in the pose of allaying fear and lower right hand holds a trident. She holds a damaru (tambourine) in her upper left arm and the lower left arm is in the form of giving blessing.
The colour to wear is Sky Blue.
This day marks the beginning of Saraswati Puja in some regions and is also one of the most auspicious days of Durga Puja festival. In Punjab regions, there is a tradition of honouring kanyakas or young girls on this day. The devotees observing the fast from the first day (Pratipada) will break it by inviting young girls to their homes. These girls are called Kanyak Devis and are treated as the Goddess herself. The devotees ceremonially wash their feet, worship them, offer traditional delicacies, bangles etc. and give a token amount of money called Shagun.
The deity is Siddhidatri. The word Siddhi means supernatural power and Dhatri means the giver. She possesses and bestows all Siddhis. She is depicted as seated on a lotus , holding a lotus , mace , Sudarshana Chakra and conch shell on her four arms. It is believed that Lord Shiva worshipped her and was blessed with all 8 siddhis - Anima, Mahima, Garima, Laghima, Prapti, Prakambya, Ishitva and Vashitva.
The colour to wear is Pink.
Mahanavami is the most important day of the 9-day Navaratri festival. In many regions viz. Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Telangana and Maharashtra, this day is noted for the worship of Goddess Saraswati and Ayudha Puja. Saraswati is the form of Devi symbolizing knowledge. It is a common practice on this day to worship Saraswati at home and in temples as an act of honouring her for the knowledge she bestows. Students place their books and other study materials in front of a picture or idol of the Goddess and conduct pujas in the morning and evening.
Mahanavami is also an occasion to honour the tools and instruments with which one does his work and hence the name Ayudha Puja (Ayudham means tool or weapon). It is common in these regions to clean the tools, vehicles and other work equipment and to worship them with a picture or idol of the Goddess. The industries and mechanical shops conduct Ayudha Puja with great passion and devotion.
The festival of Mahanavami culminates with the celebrations on the 10 th lunar day (Dashami). This is a day of intense celebrations. In Karnataka, Maharashtra and some northern states, this day is celebrated as Dusshera. The Durga Puja celebrations in West Bengal also culminates on this day.
The day of Vijayadashami is very important in the regions where Saraswati Puja or Ayudha Puja is observed. It is considered as the most auspicious day for beginning the learning or initiating new ventures. The books, tools and equipment kept for worship are taken back on this day after a ceremonial puja.
The most remarkable observation on Vijayadashami is the Vidyarambham ceremony of initiating children into the world of knowledge. In Kerala, millions of children are thus initiated into learning every year on this auspicious day. The Vidyarambham events are conducted at homes and temples where a priest or an elderly person initiates the child to write ‘Om Harisree Ganapathaye Namah’ on a plate filled with rice. This marks the ceremonial beginning of the child’s education, with the blessings of the Goddess.
The 9 days of Navratri festival are dedicated to 9 different appellations of Goddess Sakthi with each day having its own distinct observations. Yet, if we travel across India, we will find variations in festival names, observances and in the forms of Goddess worshipped.
In some regions as in parts of Maharashtra and Telangana, the Tridevis – Durga, Laxmi and Saraswati are worshipped. Goddess Durga or Kali symbolizing the destruction of evil is worshipped in the first 2 or 3 days, Goddess Laxmi who bestows wealth and affluence is worshipped on the next 3 days and Goddess Saraswati who bestows knowledge is worshipped on the last 3 or 4 days. In places where Dusshera is celebrated, the observations are meant to commemorate the victory of Lord Ram over Ravana. Also, in the regions where it is harvest time, the Navratri observations are related to activities like cropping and sowing; while in some other regions, the focus is on the ceremonies like Vidyarambham and Ayudha Puja.
Thus, we can find significant variations in Navaratri celebrations. Yet, the core concept behind this festival remains the same throughout which is the worship of various manifestations of the divine femininity or supreme Goddess. The Hindu concept of Durga or Sakthi itself is a manifestation of the omnipresent energy of the Universe. We give much importance to the mother aspect of the God - the energy behind creation, preservation and destruction. The Universe or the world we live in has the qualities of a mother. It sets the celestial bodies in motion, creates day & night and brings about periodic changes in climate, maintaining a perfect abode for preserving life. Our ancestors have chosen this Navaratri occasion as a sacred opportunity to worship the Mother Goddess or the divine energy. Also, our worship of various aspects of this universal energy agrees with the scientific fact that energy can neither be created nor be destroyed.